The spectre of authoritarianism, totalitarianism and dictatorships has cast a pall over much of Eastern European literature and film-making for generations. It has created some dour, depressing and downbeat work. The likes of Kafka, Gogol and Dostoevsky often focussed on corruption and the layered inanity of unmitigated bureaucracy. Sergey Loznitsa’s new film, A Gentle Creature, is based on a Dostoevsky short story, following a woman as she’s repeatedly thwarted in her quest for justice.
When a woman (Vasilina Makovtseva), who lives alone in rural Russia, receives a parcel which has been ‘returned to sender’, she’s confused and upset. She sent it to her husband who is incarcerated in rural Siberia. When she fails to get answers at the post office she travels to the isolated prison community to discover the truth. She’s blocked at every step as she tries to navigate the dangerous town rife with criminality, corruption, depravity and degradation.
A Gentle Creature is a disturbing, absorbing but difficult watch. Whilst ‘the gentle creature’ is determined to discover what has happened to her husband, all around her chime the infernal chorus of her fallen countryfolk. As she repeatedly faces ruination and stares into the abyss, Loznitsa never gives her a break. Social realism makes way for expressionistic exuberance, but the outcome remains unchanged. Set in an unspecified period, A Gentle Creature is a damning indictment of the corruption and lack of humanity which eats at Russia’s soul. As the citizens are somnambulant, the country rots.
A Gentle Creature open in cinemas from 13 April.